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What The Hell is An NFT And What Is It Doing in the Art-World?
An easy-peasy intro about the art world's fave buzzword
Art Stuff 01 Mar 2021

If you’re on Clubhouse, you’ve probably heard the word ‘NFT’ (Non-fungible token) more times than you’d like to recount. Despite this, you wouldn’t be alone in still not knowing what one is, what you do with them, and why they’re suddenly everyone’s favourite buzzword.

Ownership and copyright have been issues in the art market since well before digital art was born. Sure, I can print out a copy of an artwork I find online – but I don’t own the piece, or have any right to put it on the secondary market.

With new NFT marketplaces (such as Nifty or OpenSea) I can buy a digital artwork along with the accompanying code (“token”) which confirms my ownership. The contract of the purchase is woven into the coded material of the NFT and each NFT purchase is registered on a decentralised blockchain database that prevents duplication or forgery.

Each Non-Fungible Token has an individual identity – they aren’t like bitcoin where each coin is interchangeable and of identical value. One bitcoin is the same as the next. NFTs are a bit like real artworks – they are unique.

This makes NFTs great for an industry littered with unfair flipping, copyright issues, and forgeries. The NFT keeps a permanent record of who has bought and sold the work, who it currently it belongs to, and confirms authenticity. It’s possible that over 50% of works sold on the art market are fakes or mis-attributed, so NFTs are a breath of fresh air. They’re also beneficial for artists who can now not only track who currently owns their work, but also get a percentage (10% on average) of the resale value each time the NFT changes hands.

However, art itself doesn’t seem to be at the centre of the NFT whirlwind. The digital artworks linked to NFTs aren’t always brilliant quality, and many look like video-game stills edited on MS Paint. Granted, this isn’t always the case, but the hype around NFTs is more to do with trade than with art appreciation. Most payment is done with bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, so it feels like NFTs are still much more a part of the cyber-world than theart-world main stream.

Given NFTs’ cyber-focus, it’s hard to imagine it replacing the art market as we know it. But as more and more artists and curators turn their attention to this craze, it could well become more than just a passing fad. We’ll certainly have to hear about it on Clubhouse for a while longer.

Text by Verity Babbs

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